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Camp Hill Line Railway Stations, Birmingham

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Camp Hill line railway stations in Birmingham.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I am here today because the completion of the Camp Hill railway line in Birmingham, which would have connected Birmingham’s Kings Heath and Stirchley stations, has been delayed to the end of 2024. That is what we have been told.

On 27 June, the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, announced the delay in his typically understated and unwarrantedly optimistic fashion. In a response to me, he said he was disappointed to see the letter I had written to him on Twitter before he had received it. Yet, none of the councillors in the wards affected—Kerry Jenkins, Izzy Knowles, Lisa Trickett or David Barker—or the Members of Parliament involved, myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), were informed by him before his decision was given to the media.

The delay has come as a huge blow to my constituents, who have little access to direct rail links to Birmingham city centre. Residents of Moseley and Kings Heath, who have been without a rail link for decades, are devastated by the news. They will now have to continue to rely on increasingly congested roads for their travel to and from Birmingham city centre. I am here today to press the issue and to ask some vital questions, which have been put to me by my constituents, regarding the delay. I will also situate the delay within the wider context of the abject failure by this Conservative Government and by Conservative Mayor Andy Street to deliver on transport for the people of Birmingham and the west midlands.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he, like me, remember the Mayor launching his re-election campaign in February 2020 in a blaze of publicity? He promised eight new metro lines, 380 new stops and 21 new railway stations, but since then things have ground to a halt: University station, which was meant to open in time for the Commonwealth games last year, still has not opened; the Camp Hill line has gone dead; and the Pineapple Road station in my constituency is a big hole in the ground. Does my hon. Friend think that the Mayor is better at making promises than at delivering and that he is spending too much time trying to shoehorn Warwickshire into the West Midlands Combined Authority at a cost of £60 million to each of the other councils in order to gerrymander the next election?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I, too, remember the promises made by Mayor Andy Street in the run-up to the last election, and he has less than 12 months to come up with some new excuses. We also have to remember that, in all his campaigning, he tried to distance himself from the Conservative party, so I wonder whether he will run on the Conservative ticket or as an independent. More importantly, the issue raised by my hon. Friend—bringing Warwickshire into the combined authority—is simply about giving the Mayor an edge for electoral purposes. Even those elected to represent Warwickshire do not want that. I think he knows that he is in a bit of trouble.

Let me move on to the Camp Hill delay. Many residents have expressed doubt about the finality of this announcement. Is this delay the final delay, or is it simply one of many to be announced further down the line? It is interesting how this has been put back from the end of the year to the end of next year. The Mayor knows full well that there will be a mayoral election in May, and there might be a general election. This is no coincidence, as he knows he might be out of office, along with the Conservatives. They will then say that this is a problem for the Labour party, when they have delayed matters. That is not going to work. Can assurances be given to my constituents that the Camp Hill line will face no further delays, or should they expect further disappointment in the future?

Secondly, there is concern regarding the finances of the project. While the bulk of the finances come from the West Midlands Combined Authority, £20 million comes directly from the Department for Transport, which is a considerable stake. I would therefore like to ask the Department whether an assessment has been made of the costs the delay will incur for the project. Will further funding to make up for the additional cost be provided by the Department, or will that responsibility be passed on to the people of Birmingham and the west midlands? That question is vital. The West Midlands Combined Authority is in dire financial straits. The medium-term financial plan represents a significant challenge to the authority, as a deficit of £29 million is forecast for the 2024-25 financial year, rising to £50 million in the 2027-28 financial year.

Furthermore, the £1.2 billion of priority schemes from the West Midlands Combined Authority investment programme remain unfunded. That raises significant doubts about the completion of vital programmes, such as the Camp Hill line. Will the Government guarantee that any extra funding for the Camp Hill line will be provided and that that will be done in a way that does not jeopardise other projects in the city or the region?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is he aware that the delays to the transport plans do not simply affect the stations at the centre of this debate? In Mr Street’s manifesto, he promised that work would begin on the east Birmingham tramline, connecting Digbeth through the poorest communities in the country out to Solihull, ensuring that the land between the two new high-speed stations was connected with a tram? Yet there is absolutely no sign of that work taking place either. There is no sign of the Arden Cross hospital that was promised and, as my hon. Friend rightly says, there appears to be a £1.2 billion hole in the investment programme. Are people in the west midlands right to conclude that this is a mayor who, frankly, promises but never delivers?

My right hon. Friend makes the important point that the people of Birmingham and the west midlands have realised that Andy Street, the Mayor of the west midlands, is only good at promising, without any delivery taking place. Money for the east Birmingham tramline connecting Birmingham airport through to the city centre was actually promised by George Osborne. How many Chancellors have we had since then? How many of them have actually delivered? They are good at promising, but never at delivering.

Has the Department for Transport considered the health and environmental impacts of a year-long delay to this project? Birmingham City Council’s most recent report on air quality in the city found that pollution levels still exceed mean objectives for nitrogen oxide levels, caused primarily by increased road traffic. Furthermore, Birmingham, Hall Green has the second highest number of traffic casualties in Birmingham, with 304 casualties reported in 2021. The congested roads in my constituency are no longer safe for residents or pedestrians, yet people will have few alternatives until at least the end of 2024 because of the delay.

Finally, are the people of Birmingham, Hall Green and the west midlands more generally still expected to put their trust in Mayor Andy Street to deliver on his transport plans for the region? That is a pertinent question, because Andy’s record is, quite frankly, appalling when it comes to delivering on transport objectives for the region. His penchant for delays is matched by the Government’s inability to complete High Speed 2 within a reasonable timeframe, with costs spiralling, helped upwards by rising interest rates. Seemingly inspired by this failure, Andy Street has taken to delaying innumerable transport projects, which has increased costs.

Let me examine the Mayor’s record a little more closely. First, we have the West Midlands Metro tramline. The Birmingham Eastside extension—

Order. I gently remind the hon. Member that this is a debate on the Camp Hill line railway stations in Birmingham, not Transport for the West Midlands. He might like to make sure that his remarks are restricted to that.

Thank you, Ms Nokes. I was making the point that this is not an isolated case; there is a pattern of behaviour that is of great concern. You will appreciate that the projects I am mentioning are of great importance not only to my constituents but to the residents of Birmingham and the west midlands because this is about getting—

The tram link, which connects the stations of Stirchley, Kings Heath and Moseley to the city centre and then links to the tramline going to the rest of the west midlands, has had major disruptions, even in the Black Country, Dudley and Brierley Hill. Have commuters been let down? Absolutely, because at the last election they put their trust in Andy Street to deliver on his promises. Despite his prior assurances, the Mayor announced a 12% increase in bus fares—way above inflation—but what exactly are people getting for the money? For that reason, I ask whether the residents of Birmingham and the west midlands, but particularly those in Birmingham, Hall Green, can now trust Mayor Andy Street to deliver on the Camp Hill line and the Government to bail him out before the next mayoral election.

It is always a privilege to serve under your stewardship, Ms Nokes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) has secured a very important debate, because we in Birmingham now have the clean air zone, which affects a lot of constituents on the train lines across the city. A lot of my constituents have relatives in the Camp Hill and Hall Green areas, and they find it difficult to meet the additional expense to go through the clean air zone, so they want to use the train lines across the city to get to those places. Unfortunately, we were not successful in that.

We have one train station in my constituency, which was built because of the Commonwealth games. We wanted Hamstead Hall and other stations to be updated so that more people could use public transport, and particularly trains, but we had a different idea from our Mayor, who wanted to create a bus service connecting Walsall and Birmingham through my constituency. It was supposed to happen, but it did not. After taking money from the HS2 connectivity fund, it still did not go ahead, because there was not enough preparation to do it. Through the consultation period, which lasted almost two years, my constituents were very distressed because their inputs to the consultation were not seen as appropriate, and the right answers were not given. I remember attending a huge number of the meetings myself.

In Birmingham, we have fantastic infrastructure, particularly our train lines, but that is no good to my constituents if it is not connected. That is the direct responsibility of Mayor Andy Street. I hope that, rather than looking at new white elephants, he will look at the existing structure that we have so that our constituents do not have to suffer greater amounts of nitrogen oxide gases polluting our city and community.

We want to ensure that we have good, clean transport across the city, which is why I support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne).

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I extend my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) for bringing forward this important debate. I know that the project, like many promised by this Government, has been a long time in the making. In fact, my hon. Friend was instrumental in campaigning and lobbying for it even prior to his time in this place.

It is beyond clear that the delivery of this project will be transformational for the local area and provide residents with a vital and sustainable transport connection. That will bring residents closer to the transport hubs in Birmingham, reducing journey times into Birmingham to eight to 14 minutes for those living near the stations of Pineapple Road, Kings Heath and Moseley village. Sadly, the Government’s hallmark of continued delays and broken promises in their transport plans seems to have permeated to Conservative West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street.

As Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), have touched on, it has been over 80 years since the Camp Hill line was used by anything other than freight and through services. That is a clear wasted opportunity. When it is harnessed, the line will connect local residents with easier ways to travel to work, education and leisure, all while reducing emissions by increasing passenger usage of a less polluting form of transport.

Some 3.7 billion vehicle miles were travelled on roads in Birmingham in 2019. It is unsurprising that the West Midlands Combined Authority claims that this project alone will reduce traffic congestion in the area by up to 25%. Rail connections into cities and across areas in the midlands are vital in our battle against the climate crisis, but have sadly been long neglected.

As we have seen recently, even when plans are committed to, they have been riddled with delays and mismanaged, with ballooning budgets. Just a few months ago, for example, the Government announced that the delivery of HS2 into Birmingham, which would have benefited the constituencies of all Members from the area, will be delayed by another two years, holding back further the transformational impact of the project. Further delays on rail infrastructure in the region, which were noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), are disappointing. Inflationary pressures have been cited as one of the causes. Our stubbornly high inflation in comparison to other European nations is alarming, and it is having a devastating impact on households and our future infrastructure.

We know that delays cost money, as we have seen with London Euston’s HS2 terminal. It is completely understandable that the Members present and the residents they represent want answers. I hope the Minister is able to alleviate their concerns, following his recent conversations with the West Midlands Mayor and other stakeholders. What is the exact cost impact of these delays, and will the project remain within budget? We must ensure that the detail of the delays is made clear and that the process of reducing them is fully transparent for all right hon. and hon. Members’ constituents, so what can the Minister share with us today? We must also ensure that this is the only delay to the project and that mitigations are in place. As the project will be enhanced by the completion of other local projects, how will the recently announced exploration of the feasibility of a new station in Balsall Health impact on the Camp Hill line plans? If it is granted, will it delay the final delivery of the line further?

In the light of recent announcements, I would like some reassurances on the accessibility and ticketing functions at this station. Will there be a ticket office at these stations, or will it be limited to staff on the platform? We are all aware of the sham consultation that is taking place on ticket office closures, which I hope the Government will discontinue and on which there is legal action pending. While it is clear that this project has wide-ranging support, we must ensure that more is done to keep it on track. This is a crucial decade to build the future of transport and tackle the climate crisis. Sluggish progress will simply not cut it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) on securing this debate about the construction of three new stations on the Camp Hill line in Birmingham, namely Moseley, Pineapple Road at Stirchley, and Kings Heath. At least, that was the title of the debate; anyone who had wandered in might have thought it was on the election next year or a Labour pile-on on the current Conservative Mayor, but I will do my best, as I always should, to stick to the subject in hand.

I trust that we are at least in firm agreement that the successful delivery of these three stations will provide a welcome boost to the hon. Member’s constituents in Birmingham, Hall Green and beyond. Passenger services on the Camp Hill line were withdrawn in 1941, but since then demand for public transport in the area has grown substantially. Investment in rail infrastructure can have transformative impacts on local communities. Reopening the Camp Hill line stations will bring 75,000 people within 1 km of a new railway station and unlock untapped potential in the region.

The business case for the stations, which I received in 2020, presents a compelling array of benefits that align with the Government’s wider objectives for the country. They include supporting the local economy, expanding labour markets, reducing carbon emissions, reducing congestion on roads, helping to tackle regional inequalities, and levelling up the country. The Department therefore approved the release in June 2021 of the fixed £59 million contribution of rail network enhancement pipeline funding to the West Midlands Combined Authority for the delivery of five new stations in Birmingham, three of which are on the Camp Hill line, together with two more on the Walsall to Wolverhampton line.

I will make some progress first. The West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham City Council have also contributed funding toward the Camp Hill line stations, which I regard as a positive example of the joint working and strong local consensus formed around this scheme. All of this means that I am hugely excited to see how the new Camp Hill line stations can improve the lives of the people around them. However, West Midlands Rail Executive—the organisation delivering the new stations for the West Midlands Combined Authority—has reported that unprecedented microeconomic challenges, coupled with the emergence of unexpected issues across all three work sites, have delayed the expected completion of the stations to late 2024.

The pandemic, inflation, resource shortages and supply chain disruption have all posed substantial challenges for the construction industry. Meanwhile, on one work site a protected species was discovered that can only be moved at a certain time of the year, and most of the work on the site had to be delayed until the animals were safely relocated. Elsewhere, a historic well, which was not registered on any public records, was discovered, meaning works had to be paused while the public realm was redesigned accordingly. Furthermore, a locally listed historic wall situated close to a worksite was in an unstable condition and had to be carefully deconstructed in a way that means it can be restored later.

While I share the disappointment at the delay to the stations, I accept that construction must not be rushed at the expense of local heritage and biodiversity in local communities, so I support and commend West Midlands Rail Executive’s best efforts to ensure that construction is undertaken in a way that is sensitive to the built and natural environment in which it takes place. My officials are working closely with the West Midlands Combined Authority and West Midlands Rail Executive to track progress and seek opportunities to accelerate delivery where possible. I understand that there are scheduling efficiency opportunities being explored that might see one or two of the stations open earlier in 2024. I give way to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), who wanted to intervene.

The Minister is too generous. I wanted to refer to a point he raised earlier. He rightly said that the Department had given a £59 million grant to the transport authority. Can he confirm that additional funding was anticipated through a round 2 levelling-up bid, but it was not authorised, and that that is one of the reasons for the current delay? I understand about the protected species and the historic wall, but what is the explanation for the delay at Stirchley, where there does not seem to have been any answer as yet?

I encouraged the hon. Member to rise to his feet to interrupt me, so I hope I am being generous in that regard. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is responsible for the levelling-up fund and I do not have information about unsuccessful bids, but I will write to him about that. I will also write to him regarding the other station impact. We tend to find a knock-on from one to another: I recently visited the Northumberland line where there was a similar matter of a protected species—great crested newts in that case—and that had a little knock-on effect as well. I will write to the hon. Gentleman on both those points.

On costs, the hon. Gentleman is right; the contribution I mentioned earlier from the Department is £59 million. There is no doubt that inflation, as I find across my portfolio, presents a challenge in ensuring projects are delivered on budget. The Office for Budget Responsibility recently reported that construction inflation is running at around 15%, so that is a big challenge for us. That is why the Department is afforded flexibility on how the £59 million of RNEP funding is distributed between the five new stations.

Can the Minister confirm that, with the 15% construction inflation on top, the £59 million increases by another £9 million? The project is not on time, but is it on budget and will further funding be required? If so, where will that increase in funding come from?

Obviously, this is a contribution made by the Department. As mentioned, my portfolio, which also includes HS2, is experiencing great challenge. There is a limited amount the Department is able to offer, but it has offered that amount as well, and we look to our partners to raise the financing that may be required to deliver the project.

Although I have focused on the three Camp Hill line stations, I have also touched on the two other stations in the five-station project. It would be remiss of me not to mention also the host of other exciting rail infrastructure enhancements that will imminently be delivered in and around Birmingham by Mayor Andy Street. I hope this affords me an opportunity to rebut a little what struck me as “What has the Mayor ever done for us?”, like Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and “What have the Romans done for us?” Allow me to list them: a new station at Perry Barr, which was delivered on time for the Commonwealth games; Edgbaston tram extension opened for the games; extensions being built in the Black Country and Birmingham Eastside; sprint bus routes opened for the games, clearly reducing the journey times; the lowest bus fares in the country outside London, and fares still below those in 2017, when the Mayor was elected; 90% of the pre-covid bus network is protected, well above many city regions; on target for a 100% Euro 6 bus fleet by the end of the year; West Midlands Trains are the most improved under Mayor Street’s collaboration; and—something that the Labour party may struggle with—seven times more transport capital now being invested per year than before Andy Street was the Mayor. Actually, that is why we trust Andy Street to deliver.

One thing that is really interesting, Ms Noakes, is that there is a lot of criticism of the delivery of this line, but if my recollection serves me well, the Labour party was in power between 1997 and 2010, and the three stations—this line—were not delivered. The line has been closed for more than 70 years. When it is delivered, it will be under the Conservative Government and the Conservative Mayor, Andy Street, who are both being criticised.

I would not wish to stray off the brief, so I hope that the Department’s substantial investments in rail infrastructure throughout Birmingham provide assurances to constituents represented here today that they will soon be able to enjoy the benefits of new and improved services, both on the Camp Hill line and beyond. I would also reaffirm my confidence in Mayor Street, who in my view is the best of Mayors.

I, too, would like to go along with the Minister and set out the record of Mayor Andy Street. Indeed, he has achieved a lot. If we look at the long waits for transport, with 28% of people waiting at least 20 minutes for delayed transport—and often much longer—that is under the watch of Mayor Andy Street. It is clear that those delays are due only to the mismanagement and incompetence of the Mayor—and perhaps the team that he leads, but it is always with the leader that the buck stops. Commuting times in the West Midlands are now the highest in the country, at an average of 46 minutes, comparable to London’s—a city with a population of 9 million compared with Birmingham’s 1.1 million.

Those are the achievements of Andy Street. If the Minister is going to be proud of that, especially with the wider projects that he mentioned—especially in the Black Country, with the delay to the Brierley Hill project—then that is something that he can be pleased with, but it is nothing that the residents of Birmingham Hall Green, Birmingham or the West Midlands can be proud of. Transport in Birmingham Hall Green, Birmingham and the West Midlands is worsening due to the lack of investment, a lack of competent leadership and a lack of consideration for the needs of people in the region.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Camp Hill line railway stations in Birmingham.

Sitting adjourned.